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NYPL Celebrates Centennial with Washington’s Brew

Among the many significant documents in The New York Public Library’s resources for the study of George Washington is a recipe that, while likely not historically impactful, will be of interest to history buffs and beer connoisseurs alike. A handwritten entry in a 1757 notebook, kept by Washington during his time as a colonel with the Virginia militia, notes a recipe for “small beer”. In the 18-19th centuries, “small beer” was characterized as weak bear with little alcohol content intended to be consumed immediately after brewing, and even considered appropriate for children. The recipe, now posted on the NYPL website, is as follows:

To make Small Beer
Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste. — Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gallons into a Cooler, put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler & strain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold, cover it over with a Blanket & let it work in the Cooler 24 hours. Then put it into the Cask — leave the Bung[hole] open till it is almost done working — Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the NYPL has teamed with Shmaltz Brewing Co. to produce a modern take on the first President’s recipe to fête the 100th anniversary of the Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building. A small Fifteen gallon batch of the special beer, “Fortitude’s Founding Father Brew”, will be brewed and available for tasting at the library gala held on May 23. Admittedly, the brewery did tweak the centuries old recipe. “The ingredients in the brewing process that he used are kind of pre-modern,” remarks Shmaltz Brewing founder Jeremy Cowan. “They obviously did a couple of things that aren’t written down here, like a grandmother would.”

“Back then, they didn’t really have quite the same understanding of brewing science that we do now,” explains brewer Josh Knowlton. “We used some roasted malts in there so it’s definitely got some of a roasted, chocolaty, little bit of a coffee flavor.”

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